Depression has become an epidemic of sorts across the globe. It is estimated that 350 million people are affected by some form of depression every year. What is worse is that research shows that 11% of adolescents develop symptoms of depression by the age of 18.
As doctors scramble to curb the trend of increasing depression rates, an interesting new line of research is suggesting that depression might actually be an allergic reaction to inflammation. Tim de Chant of NOVA writes: “Inflammation is our immune system’s natural response to injuries, infections, or foreign compounds. When triggered, the body pumps various cells and proteins to the site through the bloodstream, including cytokines, a class of proteins that facilitate intercellular communication. It also happens that people suffering from depression are loaded with cytokines.”
One of the major factors of inflammation is diet. High sugar diets, high quantities of trans fats, unhealthy diets in general, and obesity are all known factors in high levels of inflammation. Eleanor Morgan of VICE says, “Cytokines skyrocket during depressive episodes and, in those with bipolar disorder, halt in remission. The fact that ‘normal,’ healthy people can become temporarily anxious or depressed after receiving an inflammatory vaccine — like typhoid — lends further credence to the theory. There are even those who think we should re-brand depression altogether as an infectious disease … Carmine Pariante, a Kings College psychiatrist who is quoted in The Guardian report, says that we’re between five and ten years away from a blood test that can measure levels of inflammation in depressed people. If both Pariante’s estimate and the inflammation-depression theory are correct, we could potentially be just five years from an adequate ‘cure’ for depression.”
Caroline Williams of The Guardian writes: “The good news is that the few clinical trials done so far have found that adding anti-inflammatory medicines to antidepressants not only improves symptoms, it also increases the proportion of people who respond to treatment, although more trials will be needed to confirm this. There is also some evidence that omega 3 and curcumin, an extract of the spice turmeric, might have similar effects. Both are available over the counter and might be worth a try, although as an add-on to any prescribed treatment – there’s definitely not enough evidence to use them as a replacement.”
Treating the inflammatory causes of depression might actually be the key to solving the neurological impacts. This is great news in the battle to understand and treat depression.